Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity
November 16, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus tells a parable of the kingdom in response to Peter’s question, “Lord, how many times will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?” (v 21). So, Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. For this reason, the kingdom of the heavens is compared to a man who was a king, who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. And when he began to settle, there was brought to him a debtor of ten thousand talents” (vv 22-24).
Now let’s stop right there. Ten thousand talents. It sounds like a lot. Ten thousand dollars is a lot of money. But not so much that you couldn’t pay it off rather quickly; people take out loans for $10,000 all the time—and more. A few years, a little discipline, and a reasonable interest rate and you have that debt paid off in no time.
But just what is a talent? It’s a unit of weight measurement—perhaps of gold. The worth of one talent at the time Jesus told this parable was 6,000 denarii, which was equivalent to a day’s wage. This man owed 10,000 talents. So let’s put it into perspective. At Missouri’s minimum wage of $7.50 an hour over a meager 8 hour working day, a day’s wage would be $60. So one talent would be a debt of about $360,000 dollars. Jesus says this man owes the king ten thousand talents! This would mean a debt of $3.6 billion.
The absolute absurdity of this parable doesn’t stand out for us who are not familiar with the relative worth of talents and denarii. When Jesus starts this parable, I’m sure everyone was LOL-ing all over the place. There is no conceivable way that one man can wrack up that much debt all by himself. Even if you could convince Bill DeWitt, Stan Kroenke, and Tom Stillman to sell you the Cardinals, Rams, and Blues franchises and to put in on your credit card, you’d still have over a billion more dollars to spend before you reached the debt that this slave had.
What ups the ante on the ridiculousness of the whole scene is the reaction of the indebted slave. But because he could not repay, the lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife and children and everything he had, and to be repaid. Then, throwing himself on the ground, the slave prayed him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you everything!’ (vv 25-26).
Now, the only thing more absurd than a man owning this monstrous debt is his belief that he could pay it off. To pay off only the principal of his debt, he would be required to put in sixty million work days to equal ten thousand talents. If you put in double shifts seven days a week without vacation, you would still be required to work for over 82,000 years. If you count interest, well, it doesn’t really matter if there’s interest, now, does it?
This parable is to illustrate what absolute absurdity it is to stand before your Lord with your works as a trading chip to pay off the debt that you own Him. Every little sin, every little transgression against God’s holy Law—for which He withholds His righteous retribution—is like taking out a little loan against God. It puts you in His debt. But like the slave in the parable, you don’t realize the magnitude of your liability. It’s not just your sin that your carry around, but the imputed sin of hundreds of generations before you. If you stand before God with the pious intention of working your way out of your debt and into His good graces, not only must you account for your own sins, but the sins of all mankind.
It is a ridiculous notion to think that such a debt can be paid down by working. Even if you, your wife, your children were thrown into prison for a thousand years, even if all your worldly possessions were auctioned off, it wouldn’t be a drop in the bucket to repay that debt.
The word repentance means to have a change of mind. Metanoia. Contrition is part of it—feeling sorry for your sins, acknowledging the enormity of your debt before God. But the second part is realizing that the debt that you have before God is not a debt you can ever hope to repay. The change of mind to come to the realization that such a debt can only be forgiven.
While the slave is trying to work out a repayment plan, the lord is trying to change his mind about debts in general. Because he had mercy on that slave, the lord released him, and he forgave him his loan (v 27). That mercy the lord experiences is that divine, gut-wrenching mercy that moves him to action. What love the lord shows his slave, releasing him from all debt, counting it as a loss, taking the burden upon himself.
And so it is with your debt before God. You cannot repay with work. It’s a debt that can only be forgiven.
The Lord Has Rescued You from a Debt that You Could Not Possibly Pay
Upon this your confession, your debt doesn’t just disappear in a puff of smoke. When a debt is forgiven, the debt holder takes the burden upon himself. And that’s precisely what your Lord does for you. He makes your debt His debt. Though He had no obligation to do so, He left His lofty throne to join Himself to human flesh, a Man born of woman. He went all in and became a co-signer to humanity’s collective debt.
No single man could hope to pay off the debt that’s been collecting since Adam’s sin—not with gold or silver, not with hard work and dedication. But Jesus pays something much more precious than gold, something much more costly than silver. His work on your behalf, His dedication to you brought Him to stand before a local governor, whose authority came from God. He was called to answer for a debt He did not take out, but willingly chose to pay for.
But it didn’t take Him thousands of years—rather, just a few hours. Beaten, flogged, and pierced, the Roman guards drew from His veins the payment for the debts of humanity. I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of His Father from eternity, and also true Man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death…He bore your debt to the cross, paid for it in blood, buried it in the earth, and released you from its stranglehold.
If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. The second part of repentance—the change of mind—is faith. This faith is born of the good news that your debts are forgiven for the sake of Christ. Rejoice, be released from your terror, your guilt, your plea-bargaining with God. Simply trust. Trust that Christ has paid your debt.
The slave in the parable was forgiven and astronomical debt, but he didn’t have repentance. He didn’t have the change of mind from works to forgiveness. The story concludes with the forgiven slave finding a fellow slave who owed him a hundred denarii—a few months’ work at most, and threatened and even imprisoned him, preventing him from even hoping to repay what little debt he had.
When the king released the slave from his debt, he bought up every debt also owed to the slave. So the slave’s treatment of his fellow slave was not only unjust, but he was in effect trying to take out another loan against the master.
The change of mind that is born from the forgiveness of Christ is recognizing that one who is freed from such an astronomical debt cannot take debt from another. When Christ poured out His blood on Calvary, and when He pours that same blood into your mouth for your forgiveness, He not only buys up all of your debt, but also every debt that is owed to you.
It’s hard to forgive. Especially when someone has seriously wronged you. But your Lord gives you something else in addition to forgiveness—He gives you the gift of prayer. Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who are indebted to us (Mt 6:12). Forgiveness bears faith and faith leads to prayer. The Lord forgives your debts, and He works in you a change of mind and a change of heart for you to forgive those who are indebted to you.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard